Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Disabled Parking Placards II: More You Should Know About Cards, Parking Spaces and the Law

Here’s a scenario that’s becoming more and more common. I pull into a parking lot at one of my favorite (insert type of establishment). The (insert small number) disabled parking spots are taken.

I shake my fist.

“Darn you, handicapped people! Why is everyone out today?”

In the old days, maybe there were enough handicapped parking spaces to go around. Maybe handicapped people just stayed home. Since I joined the disabled community more than seven years ago, this much has become apparent: There aren’t enough spaces and there are way too many cheaters.

As I’ve stated in another blog post, the number of disabled people is going to escalate in record numbers. Nearly 80 million baby boomers began turning 65 two years ago. They will be joined in disability by a large number of injured war veterans.  Not content to stay at home as they decline in their physical abilities, these folks will use mobility aids to shop, dine, meet friends and go to appointments. They are going to be needing those parking spots.

Here’s how to improve things:

Don’t park in the handicapped spaces unless you or your passenger is disabled.

Blatant violations of these are common. In the recent past, I’ve seen an Edible Arrangement deliveryman using one of the spots to unload and distribute his fruit goodies at a dental office complex. One of my disabled friends spotted an armored car parked sideways in front of a Wells Fargo bank, making disabled spaces unusable -- a regular occurrence there, she says.  One LA resident took a photo on Memorial Day of a pickup towing a boat parked across all the disabled spots at a Burger King.
Memorial Day cheater

When a disabled Arizona woman with her family tried to park in a handicapped
spot at an A’s/Dodgers spring training game this year in Phoenix, the security guard told her the area was being saved for a team bus. Her husband let her out in her wheelchair and parked in another spot far away. At the end of the game, she noticed cars parked in the restricted area without disabled placards or plates. She snapped a photo as a Dodger player, surrounded by fans, got in one of the cars and drove away. The woman complained to the supervisor at the lot, then the city, who blamed a misinformed security guard. She got swift replies and apologies from the city, the mayor’s office and the facility manager who told her “the A’s policy is to hold all marked spots for patrons with disabled placards.” He assured her that before next year’s spring training, he would make sure the stadium staff knew not to let this happen again. 

Perhaps we could sign the rest of the world up for training in attitude adjustment.  Because, security guard or not, the Dodger did not think it was wrong to park in those spots. And clearly, lots of other people agree.

I see them not only parking in the spots, but in the crosshatched spaces in between the blue spots. These are not “free” areas: they are areas required by disabled people in order to use their wheelchairs or walkers.

Despite disabled only blue signs and the crosshatched spaces often stating NO PARKING, many motorists who are not disabled brazenly violate the rules. In their minds, parking for a couple of minutes in one of those areas is OK.


A few months ago, my husband and I were meeting family at a restaurant. It was in a strip mall and there were two disabled places in front of the establishment. A female driver with no disabled placard had parked her wide Ford Excusion in the crosshatches, so the vehicle was spilling into both blue spaces and we couldn’t park in either one. She was sitting in her car, the motor running and the windows rolled up while someone went to get takeout at a different restaurant. We drove slowly around the parking lot, giving her ample time to leave. After several minutes, my husband stopped our car, got out and asked her to please leave as she was blocking all the spaces.

She politely moved the car. Into a disabled space. We took the other one.
Crosshatched lines clearly state "No Parking"

Had I been driving myself, I could not have done what my husband did BECAUSE I AM DISABLED. I would have had to park far away in a regular space, cursing her under my breath, or drove around until the woman and her family finally got their food.

Don’t use a placard unless it’s yours. 

This, too, is a growing problem. A Los Angeles Times article in May 2011 said  abuse of handicapped placards is increasingly common in California. When law enforcement conduct sting operations, one DMV official estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the placards are being used illegally.

There are consequences. In California, misusing a disabled placard is a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of up to $4,200, imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, or both.

Examples of placard abuse include: loaning your placard to friends or family members (disabled or not), using a placard when the person it was issued to is not in your vehicle, and using a dead person's placard.

Why do these cheaters abuse placards? Sometimes it's to get a closer parking spot. Other times -- and this is a common problem in certain areas of Los Angeles -- it's to score free metered parking. (Yes, that is one benefit of disabled placard here: you don't have to pay for public parking meters.)

Change the requirement for the distribution of placards.

In California, a disabled person must have a medical professional's signature to qualify for a temporary (six months) red or a permanent blue disabled placard.

In the eyes of the state, permanent means two years. A few months before your placard expires, a new one (free of charge) with an expiration date in two years will show up in your mailbox. No questions asked.

It's an invitation for abuse.
Dodger pulling out of a spring training spot
Photo by Stefany Scovell

If the disabled person gets better or dies, the new placard still arrives. I have a permanent placard and while I enjoy the simplicity of this system, I think it is partially responsible for all the cheaters using disabled placards. The state should require another medical signature verifying a permanent disability every few years.

A note that arrived with my placard this year said: "If the placard owner is no longer at this address or the placard owner is deceased, the placard must be returned to your local DMV office or mailed to the Department of Motor Vehicles."

Yeah, right. I wonder how many placards the DMV receives each year. With all the stuff survivors have to do after the death of a loved one, heading to the nearest DMV office or post office to return the placard cannot rank high on anyone's list. The natural thing to do, if you are an honest person, would be to throw it away.

Or, if you are someone who think's it's OK to screw over disabled people, keep using it until it expires. A new one will magically appear in your mailbox every two years.